Court rules UK GCHQ hacking is legal

GCHQ Spying Legal

A good number of people found themselves furious after NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, revealed details pertaining to the extent of US and UK spying. Despite the fact that the UK’s GCHQ admitted that its agents hack devices – both in the UK and overseas – a security tribunal has ruled that GCHQ is operating within the scope of the law.

Privacy International, which launched the legal challenge in the first place said that the ruling was “disappointing” and “incompatible with democratic principles and human right standards.”

Snowden made it clear that the GCHQ can penetrate virtually any device and collect any information that it desires. For example, government hackers can remotely access a cell phone and silently activate the cameras and microphones of the device as well as quietly logging keystrokes and copying documents.

The Home Office recently published a code of practice for “equipment interference” – or hacking – in order to further secure its position in the Investigatory Powers Bill which is on its way to becoming law later this year.

Houses of Parliament

The Investigatory Powers Bill is currently being debated.

Despite the obvious violation of privacy, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (a panel of senior judges), said that the code provided a balance between the “urgent need of the Intelligence Agencies to safeguard the public and the protection of an individual’s privacy and/or freedom of expression”.

Scarlet Kim, a legal officer for Privacy International argues the opposite, claiming that hacking “fundamentally weakens the security of computers and the internet by exploiting the weaknesses in software and hardware used by millions of people.”

Not everyone was disappointed by the ruling, however. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond welcomed the tribunal’s ruling, adding that “the ability to exploit computer networks plays a crucial part in our ability to protect the British public.”

The ruling is a great foreshadow for what is likely to come when the draft Investigatory Powers Bill finally becomes law. It’s clear that the Home Office will ensure that domestic intelligence agencies have the power to operate under the same practices that they’re used to while being protected by the law. As Scarlet Kim pointed out, “just because the government magically produces guidelines for hacking should not legitimize this practice.”

Staying Protected

While it may seem that attempting to defend yourself against this massive invasion privacy is a lost cause, there are a few measures you can take to maximize your privacy. For example, protecting yourself against the metadata collection that comes with the new legislature is relatively easy.

A good first step is to implement the use of VPN while browsing which encrypts your connection making it almost impossible for anyone to decipher what you’re doing. Although most VPN providers offer similar packages, it might be in your best interest to select one that doesn’t keep logs such as IPVanish. There are hundreds of options out there, so do some research and protect your online health. If you’re unsure where to start, check out this VPN Comparison Guide to compare providers.

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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